The man from Bologna

Tra Crua

Trá Crua, Sherkin Island

I picked up a man on the beach the other day.

Yes, it’s true. I had strolled down to Trá Crua with our dog, Nellie, and there he was.

It’s quite unusual to find anyone there so I said a quick hello and walked along. As you can see, this is a very small cove so within approximately one minute, I had reached the end and couldn’t go any further. I stood and gazed out to sea while Nellie scurried here and there, when I suddenly became aware that the man was standing about three feet away from me, also very still and silent and looking out to sea. Awkward. To fill the silence, I opened the conversation with:’Lovely here, isn’t it?’. He seemed quite surprised. He looked at me with big brown eyes, raised his eyebrows and said in a heavily accented voice: ‘Yes, it is beautiful’.

It turned out that he was a professor from Bologna who lives with his mother and had come to Ireland for a cycling holiday on his own and had ended up joining other international visitors to cycle their way around West Cork. He had caught an earlier ferry to the island ahead of the group.

The man from Bologna was a very serious chap and I guess like all of us, needed some space. (Ahem, then I came along). He seemed pleased to practise his English though and told me about where he had visited and how polite Irish drivers were to cyclists compared to Italian drivers. He talked about his full Irish breakfast, the island and his mother. At some point I mentioned the view from the top of the road a few minutes’ walk away and told him that I would be walking that way home anyway. So off we set, chatting all the way. As I approached our gate, I pointed him in the right direction and suggested if he would like to call in for a coffee or tea on his way down, he would be welcome. The brown eyes widened. ‘Really?’ .’Of course’, I said. ‘Just come in when you are ready. I’ll be in the garden WITH MY HUSBAND.”

He thanked me and followed me through the gate.

Hmm…that wasn’t quite the plan.

So I arrive home with a man and plant him in the garden at the picnic bench while I go try to locate the Island Husband whom I find is on a rocky ledge at the top of the garden, merrily strimming with his new petrol-fired strimmer and wearing his new protective earphones with built-in radio. Great.

Lost in his own glorious world, and with his back to the scene unfolding in the garden, he was oblivious to my frantic calls and waves.

I excused myself to put the kettle on and walked up the garden again to try to attract the strimmer’s attention.

Nothing.

With the tea made, the tray and ginger cake on the table, I made one final attempt to invite the Island Husband to join us.

As the man from Bologna looked on, I strolled up the garden for a third time, and was presented with two choices:

1. Scramble up the rock face and gently tap the Island Husband on the shoulder.
2. Keep my dignity intact, stay below and poke him with the rake handle.

Well, he got poked!

I glanced back at the man from Bologna, who wasn’t smiling. (I am guessing that this unsuspecting Italian was beginning to wish that he hadn’t strayed from his group).

A lovely tea for three followed and we watched the man from Bologna dip the ginger cake into his cup of tea and talk about his holiday in Ireland – and his mother.

I think he could still be in our garden only that it started to rain. Before he left he asked for a photo with me and he shook our hands and went on his merry way… but not before announcing that he would be back.

We love that passers-by sometimes find their way into our garden or stop for a chat. Last summer, we had a couple of gasping nuns who joined us for a refreshing cuppa before the long walk back to the ferry.

I think it was a memorable and pleasant experience for the man from Bologna, and we really enjoyed it too. To open your door to a stranger is like opening your heart in some way. I really do believe that. It’s good to let your guard down at times and take a chance. It doesn’t cost anything to be hospitable and just think, the man from Bologna has another travel story to tell his darling mother who may chastise him for taking such a chance on a remote Irish island with a very strange woman and her even stranger husband…

But isn’t that what real hospitality is all about and what makes travel all the more interesting?

OK, that’s enough of the ‘Ireland of the welcomes’ spiel.

Slán for now.

Tea cosy